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Puerto Rico's future may be decided by protest votes

By Katherine Tibedo
On November 25, 2012

  • This Sept. 15, 2009 file photo shows a meeting of the Latino Students Association held in the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC). Puerto Rico recently held a vote in the 2012 election as an attempt to further define its relationship with the U.S. FILE PHOTO/The Daily Campus

Protest votes cast in the recent Puerto Rican vote on statehood may influence whether Congress considers Puerto Rico to become the 51st state.
 The ballot concerning statehood was made up of two parts. The first asked voters if they agreed with the current relationship between the U.S and Puerto Rico. Currently, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, its residents are U.S. citizens and the federal government regulates it similarly to states; however, Puerto Ricans cannot vote in the presidential elections and do not have representation in Congress. Fifty-four percent of Puerto Ricans voted that they disagree with the current relationship, according to a New York Times article published on November 24, 2012 entitled "Will Puerto Rico Be America's 51st State?"
The second question offered three ways to change the relationship: statehood, independence or sovereign free association. On this question 61 percent of people voted for statehood, five percent for independence and 33 percent for sovereignty.
 What is unaccounted for in the numbers are protest votes, according to Assistant Professor of Political Science Charles R. Venator, whose focus is on Latino politics, public law and political theory. A 1992 Puerto Rican Supreme Court case ruled that Puerto Ricans can chose a fifth none-of-the-above option or simply leave a ballot blank to boycott a given ballot proposal. Venator explained that if protest votes are factored into this recent vote, then only around 45 percent of the population support statehood.
President Obama and leading Republicans have stated that they would only support statehood for Puerto Rico if two-thirds of the population supported it, thus it is unlikely that this recent vote will result in statehood for the territory, explained Venator.
Additionally, statehood for Puerto Rico would mean two additional senators and a redistribution of seats in the House of Representatives, since the number of seats in the House is restricted. Venator explained some states, such as Connecticut, would be forced to give up seats. Those seats would most likely go to Democrats, as Puerto Ricans typically support Democrats, according to Venator. A House Republican would have to support a measure that would introduce more Democrats into Congress.
Furthermore, adding a state would increase federal funds sent to Puerto Rico.
"Under this economy, I just can't see it happening," said Venator.
This is the forth time in the past 15 years Puerto Rico has votes on Statehood and the only time statehood has gained a majority vote, accord to an article published by the Associated Press on November 4, 2012 entitled "Puerto Rico seeks to define relationship to US." In 2012 a statehood bill was brought up in Congress and passed in the House, according to Venator, but was never addressed in the Senate. 

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